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Wednesday, 13 November 1985
Page: 2065

Senator ROBERTSON —Has the attention of the Minister for Community Services been drawn to reports that some child care centres will be forced to sack workers, employ juniors or even close due to the new Commonwealth funding arrangements? Are the reports true? If so, what action is being taken to ensure that child care facilities are available where the need is greatest?

Senator GRIMES —I have seen reports, particularly from Victoria, which allege that child care centres will have to sack workers, replace qualified staff with junior staff and even have to close if new Commonwealth funding arrangements come into existence. In fact, I am even more disturbed to have been told this morning that the Municipal Association of Victoria will not only ask councils that are in the process of opening child care centres not to do so but also wish to tell councils that have already opened and are running child care centres satisfactorily that they should close.

I am concerned that charges of this type can create anxiety and I am concerned about the motives of the people making such charges. I do not believe that the changes will mean that any centre will have to employ juniors, unqualified staff or close down. State licensing regulations prevent the employment of unqualified staff in most cases. At present, the centres' funds come from three sources. The Commonwealth provides operational subsidies, which it will continue, and it provides fee relief subsidies and advances, which it will continue. The rest of the money is made up by fees paid by parents. Under the new arrangements the amount of the operational subsidy in most cases will decrease. However, the amount of the decrease will be matched by increases in funds generated from fees paid by parents and by the increased fee relief provided by the Commonwealth. The total funds available will not change. Centres will be able to continue to operate on the break even basis on which they now operate. They will be able to continue to provide quality child care as under the present scheme.

It is most disappointing that people who know better are concentrating just on the operational subsidy, which has been changed to provide greater equity in the system and to recognise the fact that it costs more to look after children under the age of three than over the age of three. Also, the change to the fee relief subsidy recognises that it costs more if more than one child is in care and that people who can afford to pay more should pay more under our system.

Senator Peter Baume —Is not the amount of the fees that they can charge fixed by the Commonwealth too?

Senator GRIMES —No, the amount of the fees that centres can charge to people on fee relief is limited by the Commonwealth. The amount of fees they charge to people who are not on fee relief is not. The figures have been worked out very carefully on a break-even basis. We have redistributed the funding of children's services, but I particularly want to emphasise that the local government sponsors of child care centres operate, and are in no different position from other sponsors that now operate viable and quality care centres all over Australia. There is no reason why they cannot operate on a break-even budget, either under the present arrangements-I remind honourable senators that the Victorian councils are complaining about the present arrangements-or after April 1986 when the new arrangements come in, when again they will be on the same basis as every other centre in Australia. I think that it would be a tragedy if these centres were left empty at a time when there are thousands of children and parents in desperate need for child care. The Commonwealth obviously will have to consider the situation if the Municipal Association of Victoria-unlike the municipal associations in the rest of Australia and unlike the hundreds of other groups operating child care centres-decides to take this action for its own local political purposes.